Number six in this series of posts on what makes gardening is all about learning and giving. We can learn about gardening in formal and informal ways and ‘on the plot’, in the classroom and online. For many, if not most gardeners, learning is usually informally, from other gardeners and especially through visiting other gardens. So my chosen object is an annual booklet of the NGS- the National Gardens Scheme (I’ve selected last year’s Norfolk booklet out of local loyalty). 

NGS-2015-bookletAs the organisation’s website explains, the National Gardens Scheme has a rich and interesting history that is closely connected with nursing in the UK. The origins of today’s sister organisations covering England and Wales, and Scotland go back over a hundred years…

In 1859, William Rathbone, a Liverpool merchant, employed a nurse to care for his wife at home. After his wife’s death, Rathbone kept the nurse on to help poor people in the neighbourhood. Later, Rathbone raised funds for the recruitment, training and employment of nurses to go into the deprived areas of the city.

Later in the Nineteenth Century, based on the idea of local nursing set up by Rathbone, `District` nursing spread across the country. With support from Florence Nightingale and Queen Victoria, the movement became a national voluntary organisation setting standards and training nurses.

Then, in 1926, the organisation decided to raise a special fund in memory of their patron, Queen Alexandra, who had recently died. The fund would pay for training and would also support nurses who were retiring.

A council member, Miss Elsie Wagg, came up with the idea of raising money for charity through the nation’s obsession with gardening, by asking people to open their gardens to visitors and charging a modest entry fee that would be donated.

The year after, in 1927, The National Gardens Scheme was founded.  Individuals were asked to open up their gardens for ‘a shilling a head’. In the first year 609 gardens raised over £8,000. A year later, the district nursing organisation became officially named the Queen’s Nursing Institute.

In 1980 the National Gardens Scheme Charitable Trust was established as an independent charity and since 2010, a different annual ‘guest’ charity has been chosen from recommendations from NGS volunteers.

Woodlands,%20ferns,%20North%20EastWe opened Old School Garden up to the public in 2013 for one day (not as part of the NGS, but with proceeds going to three local good causes), so I know how much hard work, excitement and enjoyment comes from doing that (we might have another go one day…). I’m also an enthusiastic visitor to other gardens, as you’ll have seen from many posts on this blog!

And the charitable impact of this sort of scheme can’t be  overstated. Since its foundation, the National Gardens Scheme has donated over £45 million to its beneficiary charities, of which nearly £23 million has been donated within the last ten years (£15.2 million to Macmillan Cancer Support alone since 1985, being that charity’s largest donor).

So, the NGS is both a potent symbol of gardeners’ eagerness to learn – and to give.

 Old School Gardener

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